(Caution: Spoilers ahead) THE MENTAL WIZARD (cowritten by Lester Dent and Harold Davis) is one of those where Doc and his team don’t show up until a couple of chapters in. Instead, we get a prologue discussing how many people have disappeared in the South American jungles, which is an odd start, and not one I’ve seen before.
The story property starts with “Amber” O’Neil, the leader of a mob of killers operating in South America (Colombia at the time of the story). When a plane crashes nearby, he discovers it holds a lost explorer, babbling about the secret of Klantic, and Z, a stunning beauty wearing an outfit of gold mesh, with gold plating on her hair. Plus she turns out to be telepathic, able to hypnotize a man without saying a word or panic O’Neil’s gang with an illusion they’re surrounded by snakes. Plus she can take out several men with martial arts (whether it’s Klantic Fu or something she learned by probing other people’s minds). Z is easily the most memorable female to show up (well, besides Pat Savage) since Retta Ken in The Roar Devil. Later on in the book, she skims a book on electronics Long Tom wrote and instantly grasps a flaw in his theories.
Doc and his men show up, unusually, on vacation (the first, but not the last time Doc’s taken one of those). The explorer tries to reach Doc and so our heroes become embroiled in the quest for Klantic. This turns out to be Z’s home, a lost city inside the gigantic statue shown on the cover (as always James Bama seems to know the contents of the book he’s drawing for). The secret? An ancient potion that will endow the taker with Z’s powers, squared. O’Neil wants it.
Despite all that, the story is a bit on the mundane side. Amber O’Neil is closer to the top henchman role in other books than a leading villain, and the trek to Klantic isn’t that different from any other jungle adventure. It’s still a fun story, though. And unlike Mystery Under the Sea, they do resolve the secret effectively (the potion has degraded to the point it’s useless).
THE TERROR IN THE NAVY boasts one of my favorite covers and a great twist. Again, Doc doesn’t show up immediately: we’re back to the familiar set-up of someone desperately trying to get a warning to Doc and the bad guys determinedly trying to stop him. The warning role goes to a Navy lieutenant who’s discovered a terrifying plot against the U.S. navy. We no sooner learn this than a mysterious force tugs a naval flotilla off course, into shallow waters, grounding them all. It then drags the lieutenant down into the depths as he’s swimming to shore.
The villains, no fools, have been watching Doc’s suite in the Empire State Building to figure out how he does things and prepare counter-strategies … although since the book reaffirms that Doc still has one-way glass in the windows (as mentioned in The Derrick Devil) it’s hard to see how they can spy. Still, they find various ways to strike at him, while continuing the attack on the Navy with the mysterious tractor beam (not that Dent uses the word). Eventually Doc learns that the threat is one of those Unnamed Foreign Powers plotting an assault on the United States. But to complicate things, a man called August Atlanta Braun has offered a miracle defense against the weapon … for $100 million. And he has no qualms about killing anyone who tries to get it without paying.
The twist is that the whole thing is a scam. Braun has built up a massive conspiracy, enlisting his agents in the military, then having them steer ships or planes off-course while claiming that the enemy force took control of the vessel.
That said, the execution doesn’t satisfy as much as the premise and Pat is really ill-used here—it’s the first time she’s ever admitted to feeling out of her depth in Doc’s world, and it’s very out-of-character for her.
Still after last month, these are a vast improvement. All rights to images with current holder.